Yarns with Ma Series, 1 of 3
An honest, stereotype breaking, issue-raising, belly-laugh inspiring, and deeply-touching, slice of life interview series with my Mum about growing up in Aotearoa as a wahine of mixed heritage.
Fly back in time with us for part one where we talk early whānau life in Rotorua. Think; steaming hot pools, a lakeside marae, best mate cuzzies, and a whoooole lotta staunch aunties.
Kuirau Park by RotoruaNZ
Quick whakapapa to set the scene; Once upon a time in Te Whānau ā Apanui lands on the east cape of the North Island, Tiweka Anaru met Paretio Paraone Heremia. They married and eventually moved to Rotorua where they had my koro, Percy Anaru, the pōtiki of 9 siblings (or possibly 11—we think there may have been another set of twins).
Percy met my nana, Elfriede Rubin (a Jewish refugee from Austria) while they were both working in London. They had my mum, Shelley, in England before returning to Rotorua where they had three more kiddos; Maggie, Paul, and Jude. The whānau moved to Auckland when Ma hit intermediate school.
Top row from left: Samuel & Rose Rubin, (Ma's Austrian Jewish grandparents), Pare & Tiweka Anaru (Ma's Māori grandparents)
Bottom row from left:, Elfriede & Percy Anaru (Ma's parents), Ma, siblings and some cuzzies; backrow - Shelley Dunn, Lizzie Dunn, Paul Anaru, Ineke Jamin, Jude Anaru, Percy Anaru - mid row - Scott Dunn, Casey Davison - front row - Elfriede Anaru, Mitch Davison, Georgia Davison, Maggie Anaru.
Listen to the audio as you read!
Click play on the left to hear the interview.
“It feels like a kai is as good a place to start as any. Ma, can you tell me what you know about how mealtimes went down at Pare and Tiweka’s?”
“Sure, their house was right in the middle of Rotorua town. Most of the boys worked for the government which was not far away—just down the road—so they used to have to go home for lunch every day, which was common in those times.
She (Pare) apparently would have a set of white shirts hanging up and as the boys came in for lunch, they had to change their shirts and sit at the table. The table would all be beautifully laid with tablecloths and things like that and there’d be a proper cooked lunch for them every day.
Apparently she was an amazing gardener and had this huge garden. I think all the food came out of there.”
I’m so intrigued by my great-grandma, Pare Anaru. We have a few photos of her. She actually looked a lot like Mum and had a beautiful moko kauae. Like Tiweka, she died before Mum was born.
Pare is on the left, we're not sure who is next to her.
"What did you know about Pare?"
“Um, well nobody actually ever sat me down and said ‘This is what your grandma did, this is what your granddad did’. I just kind of picked it up from conversations.
Once I went to a tangi, I can't remember whose it was, and my aunt had given me a blanket that my Nana used to always take to tangi (which I've got in the wardrobe) and she also gave me a greenstone that I've got.
So I went to the tangi and I took the blanket and I wore the greenstone. And… who was it? It was Uncle Goog—when he saw it, I remember he burst into tears. He said, ‘That was… that was Nana’s,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, it was’.”
Mum has the faraway eyes going on and her voice is soft. I can tell she’s feeling nostalgic, which is nice. It doesn’t happen too often.
"Can you tell me about where you lived? Kawaha Point?"
"So it was a brick, three bedroom house. My dad built it with two mates, largely. It was on a huge section, it must have been a quarter acre, could've even been larger and at that stage Kawaha point was miles out from—well, in Rotorua terms—it was miles out from town.
There was nothing really out there. The bus station was a good 15-20 minute walk away, probably even more when I think about it. And we didn't normally have a car. So the city—if you could call it that at that time—was a long walk—a really long walk cos the bus service wasn't great.
So Mum was really isolated at Kawaha Point and after they built the house they definitely ran out of money. So there were always problems like um… there were always money problems."
"What did you do on a typical weekend?"
"Well, we had no TV. We used to listen to the radio. We had these serial things. There used to be a kids radio programme on in the morning that we would always listen to, and then Mum would listen to her serials, which were kind of like serial soaps afterwards while Dad and I would work in the vege garden out back. One was called ‘Dr. Paul’."
Mum puts on a funny voice to mimic the old theme song when she says ‘Dr Paul’ and laughs.
"We just basically played outside. We had cousins—my best friend and cousin lived not far. And another cousin also lived not far away. They were all around that Kawaha Point area.
Basically we would just either go for a walk or we'd go down to the farm nearby and get mushrooms, or koura, or go to the beach.
The lake was just down the road so we'd go down to the lake, you know, to swim.
There was a little girl down the road… I thought she was really old, but she must have been about 14 or something and she used to look after me on Saturday afternoons—Jenny Stewart. I absolutely adored her.
On Saturday afternoons we often went to the movies in town which would mean her putting me in the basket of her bike and biking into town.
She also had a boat, a little dinghy. She'd take me down to the lake and we'd go for a row. She used to park it in the boathouse down there and she would scare me about the water rats. There were heaps of them too."
"So as well as heaps of water rats, there was heaps of whānau time?"
"Oh yeah, so we had a thing; we’d go and see Aunty Hana and Uncle Claude, who was Dad’s eldest brother and the mother of all the others that lived around.
And then we would go to Uncle Albert’s and often stay there for ages. He lived next door, well sometimes he did, sometimes he didn’t. He was a headmaster and he used to move around to lots of different houses but at one stage he was living next door.
And then we’d go see Uncle Hori who lived next door to him.
Then we would go see Uncle Hughes.
And then we would go over the road and see Uncle Wi.
So we would do that circuit and probably on the Sunday we would go and see Uncle Goog, who was—oh no we used to go and see them on Saturdays because we used to go and watch Bewitched at their place.
Sometimes they would all have a party with friends. Someone would be playing the uke or the guitar and they’d just sing and sing."
Mum pretends she can’t play the ukelele now, but I remember hearing her once when I was little.
"They used to sit on the floor—this was the only thing that I was allowed to join in on—and do ‘Row, row, row, your boat’ and everyone would sit on the floor like this with someone behind them and go ‘Row, row, row your boat…’"
She erupts into laughter.
I’m glad we still have a mini-version of this routine going with my immediate whānau at least. I make a mental note to check in more with my cuzzies. Maybe I could even get ‘row row your boat’ going again… might be a push…
"Do you have any other favourite memories?"
"Well, like… the biggest treat in the world was—on Friday afternoon before we went to the delicatessen—was Mum meeting me at the library and getting new books.
That was just… you know I used to look forward to that all week.
When we had a car, we’d pick up my Uncle Hughes on Friday nights. My Uncle Hughes used to always go to the pub and we’d pick him up because they closed at 6 o’ clock. He was always half cut and he’d get into the car, in the back with me, and he’d always say ‘Read me a story’. And I’d read him a story and he’d sing me a song. When we’d get to his place to drop him off Mum and Dad would go inside—you know to have a chat to my aunty, but we’d sit in the car until I finished the story and he’d sung me his song.
Yeah, he was a… he was a great old thing."
The marae Mum grew up around, Tūnohopū, is a Ngāti Whakaue marae.
It’s not technically the marae we belong to but we’re very closely connected because Pare & Tiweka formed tight bonds there back in the day and then most of my Koro’s brothers married in. It’s the place we’ve always gone back to mourn our mate and we’re grateful that our relationship has carried on, even after the whānau moved up to Tāmaki Makaurau.
"Ma, can you please describe Tunohopu for people who haven’t been before?"
"Well it’s beside the lake, it's just down the road from St Faiths which the family have been involved with for generations.
Um, it’s in Ōhinemutu and when you look out from there you can see the mud pools and the steam coming off the lake. It's quite evocative in that way.
The Arawa culture is quite strong and strict and quite male oriented, so I know there are marae where they don’t separate the men and women, but this one they definitely do."
Tunohopu marae and a sculpture just outside
Looking down to the Ōhinemutu area, St Faith's church, and Lake Rotorua
"Did you spend much time down around the marae when you were growing up?"
"No, not on the marae. In our whānau… like weddings weren’t held there, the only real things that were held there were tangi.
But my aunty who lived next door, in fact, two aunties lived next door; Aunty Maraea and Aunty Katie and they were really involved with it. Their place was like the place that people went to to gather. That was where I was telling you about making the panels—all the aunties used to go there and make the tukutuku panels for the church and I think there was always someone weaving and various things going on there.
One of them had a bath, a thermal bath out the back, so everybody used to go there—all the kids and all the uncles and aunties and there might be several other kids and uncles and aunties in there. There was no electricity, it was just an open roof and um, you didn’t have to tell them that you were coming, you just turned up."
"Do you feel a connection to Tūnohopū?"
"Yeah of course, of course I do."
"Can you talk about… how does it make you feel when you go there?"
Mum laughs… she’s joking—but also kind of not.
"Oh look it’s just always the place where you can never do anything right and you can certainly do a whole lot of stuff wrong.
The aunties were pretty fierce. We come from a very fierce line of women, and so if the kids did anything wrong they would jump on them. We were always getting told off.
Actually the person who used to get told off the most was my Dad."
Now I crack up.
"Seriously! He totally did everything wrong but they’d just laugh at him whereas they’d tell us kids off!"
"And what was the state of te reo Māori like then?"
"In Rotorua, we used Māori words words all the time, pretty much like people are starting to now. Even the white people down there used Māori words all the time. Even the people that didn’t speak fluent Māori. We knew… you know there were some words that people used all the time—insults and funny things that you would call each other and whatever, that was all in Māori."
"Can you remember any insults or anything?"
"Um, yes, if you called somebody a tiko…."
The cheekiest look comes on Mum’s face. I can immediately see her as a six-year-old unleashing some of that fierce lineage she’s been talking about upon some poor boy. I laugh so hard my puku hurts. He would have deserved it though. Tiko means shit if you didn't know or hadn't guessed.
Rotorua Primary School class photo 1963. Mum in a classic pose - front row, third from the left. Behind her a number of boys she may or may not have called a tiko.
"And did the whānau used to carry out any kind of tikanga?"
"Yeah I guess so…when there was a full moon we had to cover up any food that was left on the table. I don't know why we left food on the table… it might have been because we got up really early to have breakfast… but, so everything had to be covered up so that the moon wouldn't shine on it. I don’t know why… it would kind of make it poisonous and then it would make us sick… I think that was the idea.
Every time you cut your hair or your fingernails or toenails, it all had to be picked up and carefully disposed of somewhere so that you didn't leave any bits of you lying around.
And there would have been a lot of things where I just thought that's what everybody does. So I probably can't really remember because they didn't stand out to me as like, being unusual."
"Did you ever do karakia—either Māori or Pākehā versions?"
"Oh, we said grace at every meal."
"And were there any strong ideas about spirituality or death or anything?"
"Yes, oh yeah there was the fantail thing with Dad. He’d get a bit worried if a fantail came into the house. His mother used to chase them around the room with a broom and kill them if they came into her house."
"Yes, yeah, and you know there was the usual thing about death and that it takes kinda like three days for the spirit to leave the body and um… there was a little bit.
But Dad was really emotional around death, he didn’t really like to talk about it and it was a bit the same with my mother. Um… I think for them it was quite traumatising.
I don’t feel like that at all."
"You don’t feel like that at all?"
"No, and I certainly want, you know, I want to prepare for it. So—not for me—but for you kids. So that you know where everything is."
"What parts of your childhood do you wish that your descendents could also experience?"
"I think the part that I remember the most is growing up with no TV, no car most of the time, in quite a remote place with not a lot of access to other people.
Although we did have, we did have lots of access to other people really… but during the week, you know I would spend a lot of time on my own or with my brother when he was little and then Mags and Jude were just babies when we left Rotorua for Auckland and I think that time was amazing.
I mean I can still see myself sitting down at the front of the drive and I used to, you know, make fairy gardens and I'd look at the lake and make up stories about things. I think it really taught me to be self sufficient and to have an imagination."
Christmas at the Anaru house, 1965. Shelley (Ma), Paul, and Maggie (Judy, the youngest, not in this photo).
"What parts of Maori culture, if any, do you want your descendants to hold on to?"
"Um… I actually, I honestly don't know.
I mean, I think there is… I don't even know.
I don't know what, what parts of me are specifically Māori and what might be Jewish or what, because I mean my mother also was an incredibly strong person and went through a lot, so I don't know which is which, you know?
Basically I would like my kids to be strong, be compassionate, and to take care of other people but not to the point where it's not taking care of themselves. And look after their whānau. And whatever that culture fits into is what I want for them.
To be of service is the family thing… and that seems like something that's so old fashioned now. Like people don't think to be of service is a good use of a life. They think to live your greatest life, yourself, you know, and meet your potential is the good use of a life, but for my whānau—to be of service—they thought that was a moral thing to do. They thought it was a joyful thing to do.
Pretty much every one of them have been in some sort of role where that's what they do for a living or in a community. Uncle Peter’s, Uncle Peter, you know because he’s already got his gravestone ready, and the thing on his gravestone is something like ‘to be of service’.
Yeah, and that’s actually what I believe in too.
That's why I absolutely adore the Queen (Elizabeth), because she's lived her life like that too. She's got a lot of awards and stuff for it but I bet she would much rather have just been able not to, you know.
Is that alright? It’s not very interesting."
In my opinion, stories like mum’s offer a real and precious understanding of history and society—with all the heart that is missing from most formal accounts.
Through the stories of our mothers (or carers, or kaiako, or friends or whanaunga in blood or spirit) we can understand where we and our neighbours have come from and be better equipped to choose where we go in the future.
So it’s not just interesting Ma, it’s powerful as all hell. Thank you for sharing.
Mum in London, her fav city.
Keen for more? Check out part 2; It’s a raincoat, not a macintosh where we talk about moving to Auckland, being different, and the specific smell of muttonbird.